The national-religious lobbying group Ne’emanei Torah VaAvodah has called for term limits to be imposed on state-appointed rabbis of small towns, the group announced on Thursday.
The organization’s call comes after Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said recently that, following the completion and approval of new guidelines, approximately 50 rabbis would be appointed in small towns around the country, with more appointments expected soon.
On Thursday, Ne’emanei Torah VaAvodah welcomed what it called the “reinvigoration of rabbinical leadership in Israel” but said that the appointments process and the fact that rabbis of small towns do not have term limits was very problematic.
Currently, such positions are lifetime appointments, and it is extremely difficult to remove the rabbis from office.
“A rabbi is a public leader and not a clerk, and the appointments process and period of service must be defined accordingly,” the organization wrote to Ben-Dahan.
“In our democratic world, leaders are elected for a short period of time. It is fitting that rabbis should be elected for a term the length of which is predetermined (as is the case for the national chief rabbis), after which the public can decide whether to reelect them.”
Ne’emanei Torah VaAvodah argued that predetermined restrictions on the length of service for a rabbi would guarantee the ongoing relevance of the rabbi in question to his community and strengthen his standing with his congregation.
There have numerous allegations in the past of the politicization of the process for appointing rabbis to small towns. Additionally, some serving rabbis currently do not live in the town for which they are rabbi and rarely visit.
Ne’emanei Torah VaAvodah says it wants to prevent such situations arising in the future and that reform of the process of appointing such rabbis, as well as term limits, will greatly help in this regard.
“In order to save the institution of town rabbis and to make it relevant, there has to be a change,” said Dr. Shuki Friedman, the head of religion and state matters at Ne’emanei Torah VaAvodah. “Only the democratic election of rabbis by the majority of the public, for a predetermined term, will restore relevance to the institution of the rabbinate and connect it to the public.”
The Religious Services Ministry says, however, that rabbis of small towns will be appointed by electoral committees within towns wishing to appoint a rabbi, and that the majority of the committee members will come from the town itself.
The ministry also noted that it will be possible to fire rabbis who do not fulfill their obligations and that all rabbis will be required to stand down once they reach the age of retirement.